PROVINCIAL ATTENTIONS WILL turn swiftly to the Heineken Cup in the coming days but last night, Leinster’s Matt O’Connor was simply enjoying success over Munster.
Having lost to the southern province earlier in the season, the 22-18 win in Dublin was the Australian’s first victory over Munster as head coach of Leinster.
As a means of explaining their defeat, O’Connor’s counterpart Rob Penney suggested that Munster’s players had been sidetracked by their impending Heineken Cup quarter-final against Toulouse.
An easy excuse in O’Connor’s opinion.
I don’t know how distracted Munster were in the first 25 minutes, to be honest. It is always going to be a bit of cat and mouse with that. The rivalry is the rivalry and everyone needed to win. The Pro 12 points are massive, so I wouldn’t want to comment on any of that.”
A four-point margin was unsurprising in a fixture that was always likely to be close, but it was the away team who looked the more likely winners at half time. Munster took a 12-6 lead into the break, as Leinster’s attack stuttered.
There were multiple incidents of O’Connor’s men losing the ball in contact or simply knocking-on as they attempted to give and receive ambitious offloads.
“We pushed the pass a little bit. At 6-0 down, we were chasing the game a little bit. There was a long way to go in the footy game and I was a little bit surprised by us, but that was largely due to Munster’s intensity.
“They started the game very well. They got some results early in the game that gave them a bit of a cushion on the scoreboard and we were under a little bit of pressure, but the fightback was enormous.”
Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Going into the interval only six points behind felt like a minor victory in O’Connor’s thinking, particularly with his players believing that their superior conditioning would be decisive in the second 40.
“We were pretty confident at half-time. Among the guys, there was a general feeling that they [Munster] wouldn’t be able to keep up that intensity off the back of errors largely from us.
“We gave them entry into the game and we were a little bit disappointed with how we did that in the first half. There are great lessons there for next week. You can’t afford to not exit your half correctly.
“You can’t afford to turn over the ball when you are in scoring opportunities because you won’t win. That becomes very clear going into a game of this magnitude in sudden-death cup rugby.”
Heading into that one-off encounter with Toulon in the south of France next Sunday, O’Connor is relieved that his front row injury worries are likely to have eased. Props Jack McGrath, Martin Moore, Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong were all absent last night, but O’Connor is hopeful that some, if not all, of them will return.
I jolly well hope so. It was a bit of a tough one because you don’t want to put out blokes that are compromised and blokes who aren’t 100% fit in a game of that intensity because that will hurt you.
“There was a little bit of an eye on next week and certainly the scrummaging prowess that Toulon have at home. So we needed to manage that and thankfully we got away with it.
“Cian was really close to playing. As late as [yesterday] morning, we were tossing up whether he plays or whether he doesn’t. I would be very surprised if he doesn’t take the field next week.”